At 37 weeks your baby is fully formed. It is at this stage, particularly in first pregnancies, that your baby may begin to move down so that their head is within the pelvis (‘engaged’) as he/she is preparing to be born. The movement of the baby should make things more comfortable for you, however you may feel increased pressure on the abdomen. If it’s more comfortable for you, eat little and often rather than having a big meal, and remember to keep hydrated.
Tips for the birth partner
It is important to support pregnant women both practically and emotionally throughout her pregnancy, and the role of a birth partner or companion can be extremely valuable in giving practical and emotional support during labour as well. Women in labour have a need for companionship and help, and should be encouraged to have support by birth partners of their choice.
Perhaps food and drink will be the last thing on your mind but, depending on the type and length of the labour, having a good supply of energy and hydration may help with the labour process and with your partner’s recovery after the birth. As birthing partner, it may help to keep you going too so make sure you pack enough!
Quick easy snacks and drinks are probably the way forward, nothing too heavy or difficult to eat.
• Plan the foods and drinks you wish to take with you in advance
• Buy the non-perishable foods and drinks on your list and pack them in your partner’s hospital bag
• Take straws or sports-top drinking bottles which are easy to drink out of
• You normally have a while at home before needing to go into hospital, if this is the case, try to make sure you both eat and drink something- this could be a few snacks or a meal, whatever you can both manage
• When in hospital, remember to keep offering your partner sips of drinks to keep her hydrated and snacks if she can manage to eat anything
Drink and snack ideas for labour
Early labour - snack and small meal ideas
Once your contractions start there can be a quite a long wait before you are ready to go to hospital, so you will need to make sure you keep your energy and hydration levels up. Below are some healthy snack and small meal ideas you could try:
• Sandwiches, wraps or bagels – using wholegrain or wholemeal varieties, adding a source of protein such as tuna, chicken or cheese and some salad
• Some fresh fruit or vegetables – good ideas for snacks include raw vegetable batons, pots of fresh fruit, or fruit that requires no preparation like apples, bananas, pears or satsumas
• Pots of salad (try to make sure it contains some starchy carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes or couscous as this will help maintain your energy levels, also include a source of protein and some fruit or vegetables)
• Fluids – as well as water try liquid foods like soups or drinks like smoothies or milky drinks that provide energy and nutrients as well as water
• Ginger – this can help if you are feeling nauseous, try ginger flavoured teas or drinks
During and after labour – drink and snack ideas
When the time comes to go to the hospital, it is also a good idea to pack some snacks in your bag. Although you probably won’t feel like eating while you are in labour, they will come in handy after the birth, especially if this happens in the middle of the night when the hospital will not be providing food. They may help to keep your partner going too!
Here are a few snack suggestions to take with you:
• Dried fruits, nuts and/or seeds
• Crackers, crispbreads or oatcakes
• Fruit loaf
• Teacakes or fruit scones
• Fresh fruit such as a banana, satsuma and/or pear
• Cereal bar or breakfast biscuits
As labour becomes more established, appetite can often disappear. However, it is important to stay hydrated if you can. Remember to pack some drinking straws too so you can take sips of drinks easily during labour. Here are a few suggestions for drinks during labour:
• Water (still or sparkling)
• Isotonic sports drink
• Fruit juice or smoothie cartons
Nutrition in Labour – what the science says
In certain cultures food and drink are consumed during labour for nourishment and comfort. However, in some medical settings, particularly in the US, women have been recommended to fast during labour. This follows some quite old recommendations from the 1940s, where advice for fasting in labour was intended to protect women from an increased risk of pulmonary aspiration (breathing food back into lungs) during general anaesthetic (should emergency surgery be required during delivery). However, since then, there has been far greater use of local anaesthetics. These advances, as well as reports indicating that women find eating restrictions unpleasant, have led to more research in this area, and some clinicians and midwives argue that preventing food intake during labour can be detrimental.
A good quality study looked at healthy women with their first uncomplicated pregnancy. It compared whether there were any difference in outcomes, like length and type of labour or risk of vomiting, between woman eating a light low fat diet during labour (for example small amounts of bread, fruit and veg, yogurt and juice) and those women just drinking water, and found no significant difference.
A review in 2013 looked at restrictions of food and fluid in labour compared with woman who were able to eat and drink. The review identified no benefits or harm of restricting foods and fluids in woman at low risk of anaesthesia. Therefore, there is little evidence to support restrictions in women at low risk of complications.
The need for energy is increased during labour. During long labours, levels of ketones may increase (ketones are also produced during starvation and exercise), but it is argued that this is a normal response in labour, with little clinical significance. However, ketone levels, combined with starvation and fatigue, have been associated with longer labour and maternal psychological stress.
The World Health Organization recommends that because the needs of energy in labour can be great, healthcare providers should not interfere in women’s choice to eat/drink during labour without cause. The desire to eat may be more common in early labour. Most women seem to naturally reduce their intake as labour progresses and becomes more intense. Deciding whether to eat or drink should according to the Royal College of Midwives evidence based guidelines should be guided by what the woman, at low risk of complications, feels she needs.
Last reviewed May 2015. Next review due May 2018.
Becoming pregnant as a young person can be an exciting time, but it can also be frightening and you may have concerns about money, housing, education, relationships or family.
Every mum, young or old, wants the best for their baby. But studies have shown that young women are more likely to have premature birth, a baby with a low birthweight or start pregnancy underweight when compared to older women, and these are more likely to increase risk of health complications for the baby.
Eating the right food and drink is an important part of having a healthy pregnancy to help your baby grow and develop properly. Young mums also need to look after themselves; they may still be growing too.
The diet of some young women is sometimes not as great as it could be. For example, studies have shown young women may be more likely to skip meals, choose to eat fast foods on a regular basis or have too much sugar in their diets. Some young women may also lack nutrients in their diets that are important for themselves and their growing babies, like iron and calcium.
There may be particular challenges for younger pregnant women, for example, housing issues may mean they don’t have anywhere to cook. But it’s still a good time to think about diet and make some changes that will be good for mum and baby. Even small and simple changes can make a difference!
This section has been specially written to support young pregnant women (under 20 years old), and answer some of the questions they may have.
What should I be eating more of now I’m pregnant?
Pregnancy is a great time to try and look after yourself and get lots of nutrients for you and your baby, giving him/her the best start in life. Try to eat lots of different foods every day and include something from each of the following main food groups;
- Bread, rice, potatoes or pasta (wholegrain if possible) - try to base your meals on these; they give you the energy you and your baby need.
- Fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, dried or canned) - try to eat 5 different fruits and vegetables a day, a small glass of fruit juice can count as one. They contain lots of vitamins and minerals for your baby’s growth and development.
- Meat, fish, eggs and beans - try to eat a couple of these a day; they are important for your baby’s growth. Canned fish is cheap and nutritious and so are canned peas, beans and lentils like baked beans, chick peas and red kidney beans.
- Milk and dairy foods (cheese, yogurt) or dairy-free alternatives if you are vegan - try to eat a couple of these a day; they are important for your baby’s bones.
For some healthy meal ideas and recipes, follow this link.
There are also certain foods you should avoid eating whilst pregnant. See our section on what not to eat when you are pregnant.
And don’t forget drinks…
- Tap water is a great choice – it’s the cheapest option too!
- Unsweetened fruit juice can be a good source of vitamin C, but high in sugar, so stick to one small glass a day with your breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Semi-skimmed milk can be enjoyed with a snack or on its own. It’s high in calcium so it‘s good for you and your baby's bones.
- Try not to drink too many sugary drinks, like sugary fizzy drinks.
Don’t forget – energy drinks, tea and coffee contain caffeine which you shouldn’t have too much of when you are pregnant.
Healthy Start Vouchers
For ALL pregnant women under 18, and those over 18 on benefits, Healthy Start vouchers are available. The vouchers can be spent on milk or fruit and vegetables (fresh or frozen with nothing added).
Healthy Start vitamins for pregnant women (containing folic acid and vitamins C and D) are also available.
For more information visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk
Remember to take your supplements!
During pregnancy you also need to take the following vitamins every day:
Folate (400 µg every day, up to 12 weeks of pregnancy) – start taking this as early as possible in your pregnancy (or before you become pregnant) as it helps to reduce the risk of your baby developing spina bifida and other neural tube defects (problems with their brain and spine).
Vitamin D (10 µg every day) – this is important to help your baby grow strong bones.
You should be able to buy these from your local pharmacy. If you are under 18 or have a low family income you can apply for Healthy Start and get these vitamins for free.
I hate vegetables, do I really have to eat them?
There are loads of different vegetables you could try. They don’t all taste the same so it is worth trying a few out and seeing which ones you don’t mind eating. Some are slightly sweeter than others, such as sweetcorn, peas, red pepper, carrots and sweet potato, so maybe try these and see what you think. Rather than boiling them until they turn to mush, try cooking vegetables until they are just tender, they often taste better this way. Or, you could try eating them raw, such as carrot sticks or red pepper strips. Why not try chopping vegetables up into very small pieces and putting them in sauces or stews, like in bolognaise, as it may make it easier for you to eat them. If you prefer fruit, make sure you eat plenty of different types of fruit.
I have no time for breakfast in the morning, is it still OK to skip breakfast now I’m pregnant?
Breakfast is a great way to start the day and get some essential nutrients for you and your baby. Breakfast cereals with semi-skimmed milk are quick and easy - try to choose a breakfast cereal which is low in added sugar and salt. If you are really pushed for time, why not try a fruit smoothie, drinking yogurt or banana, which you can eat on the go. When you do have time, try porridge (made with milk), fruit or eggs for simple but delicious breakfasts.
I am not the one who does the food shopping or cooking at home. I just eat what I’m given so how can I make sure what I eat is healthy for me and my baby?
Try to let the person who is doing the shopping and cooking know what types of food are good for you and your baby. Also, if you get Healthy Start vouchers, spend them on fruits and vegetables that you can eat as a healthy snack during the day. Perhaps the person doing the shopping or cooking wouldn’t mind a helping hand, which will let you have more of a say on what you eat.
How can I eat a healthy diet on a tight budget?
If you are under 18 years old or are on benefits, you may be able to get Healthy Start vouchers. The Healthy Start vouchers can be used to buy fruit and vegetables or milk. For more information visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk.
Frozen or canned fruit (in fruit juice or water rather than syrup) or vegetables can often be cheaper than fresh. Canned fish like sardines or salmon is often cheaper than fresh too and can just be stored in the cupboard. If you can, try shopping around to see if you can find things cheaper elsewhere. Fruit and veg stalls and local butchers can sometimes be cheaper than supermarkets. For more tips on eating on a budget follow this link.
How can I eat a healthy diet when I can’t cook?
Cooking may be easier than you think. Why not see if there is a cooking class in your area to help teach you the basics or perhaps you have a relative or friend who could show you a thing or two. There are loads of recipes which are healthy, simple and quick – have a look online and see what you can find. Try some simple things first – beans or scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast, or pasta and tomato sauce. You can also choose healthy options, even if you don’t cook. Compare food labels and choose meals which include lots of vegetables and which are lower in fat, added sugar and salt. You can also eat healthy snacks without having to cook. Try some carrot sticks and houmous, low fat yogurt, crispbread with soft low fat cheese spread or a piece of fruit.
How can I eat a healthy diet when I don’t have anywhere to cook?
Eat as well as you can manage. There are lots of recipes you could try if you have access to a microwave, see what recipes you can find online. Things like jacket potato are great with lots of different toppings like grated cheese and tomato and tuna and sweetcorn or try scrambled eggs with baked beans.
You can also cook noodles or couscous with hot water from a kettle – why not add a can of mixed beans and a can of tuna to couscous for a quick and easy meal. If you are buying pre-prepared meals and takeaways, check out the answer to the next question.
I prefer eating takeaways or ready meals, are these really bad?
They don’t have to be, as long as you pick carefully. If you are buying ready meals, check the labels and see if you can find meals which have some vegetables in them and are lower in fat, saturates, sugar and salt.
Go for green! Try to look at food labels and look for things lower in fat, saturates, sugar and salt. This is sometimes colour coded on the front of the packet of food (green means it is low, red means it is high and amber is in between). Try to choose products which are mainly colour coded green or amber. For more information about looking at food labels, follow this link.
If you are buying takeaways, try to avoid foods which are fried, contain lots of pastry or have a creamy sauce. Why not add some more veg on your pizza, add some sweetcorn to boiled rice or choose a small portion of chips and add mushy peas.
For more information on eating outside of the home, follow this link.
I’m a vegetarian, do I have to start eating meat now I’m pregnant?
You can still get all the nutrients you and your baby need from a vegetarian diet but it may require a little extra thought and planning. You will need to make sure you are getting enough iron by eating things like beans, pulses, quinoa, eggs, brown bread and breakfast cereals fortified with iron (check the label). You also need to make sure you are getting enough protein by eating protein-rich foods like beans, pulses, tofu, cheese and eggs. To find some more information about vegetarian or vegan pregnancies, follow this link.
What about smoking and alcohol, are they really that bad?
Buying alcohol when you are under 18 years old is illegal. The Department of Health advises not to drink any alcohol in pregnancy, particularly in the first 3 months when the risk of miscarriage is higher. You can still go out and have fun when you are pregnant but getting drunk is bad for your baby. Smoking is also bad for your baby, and increases their risk of being born early, not weighing enough, stillborn (born with no signs of life) or suffering sudden infant death syndrome (‘cot death’). All street drugs (like cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy) are illegal and can harm your baby. Talk to your midwife or doctor if you need help in giving up alcohol, smoking or drugs – there is support out there for you.
Can I eat loads now I’m pregnant – shall I eat for 2?
Your body is really good at adapting to pregnancy and you don’t need to eat for two. Towards the end of pregnancy, in the last trimester (last 3 months), you will require around 200 extra calories a day, which for example, you can get from a low fat yogurt and a banana. You will put on some weight during pregnancy, this is natural and important. But, if you eat too many foods high in fat and sugar and do too little exercise, you may pile on the pounds and it will be harder for you to lose this extra weight after pregnancy. For more information on managing your weight during pregnancy, follow this link.
I don’t want to put on any weight, how can I stop it?
Everyone will put on some weight whilst pregnant and it is a sign of a normal, healthy pregnancy. The weight you put on comes from a number of things, like the placenta and the baby, increases in the amount of blood you carry round your body, increases in the size of your breasts and fat stores ready for breastfeeding and the fluid surrounding your baby. These are all things that are needed to help produce a healthy baby. You will lose a lot of this extra weight when you deliver your baby. Healthy eating, exercise and breastfeeding can also help you return to the weight you were before pregnancy, and breastfeeding is a great way to give your baby the best start in life.
I’m really not good with pain. Is labour easier with a small baby?
Although mums may think that having a small baby is a good thing, it’s not. Babies that don’t weigh enough have a greater risk of health problems.
Your body still goes through the same labour pains whether your baby is small or large. Most labour pain comes from the powerful squeezing of the muscles in your womb (the contractions) and this happens at the same level, whether your baby is big or small. The position of the baby during the delivery and how relaxed you feel during the labour process are probably more likely to affect how much pain you feel, rather than the size of the baby. Having a small baby may also increase the risk of the baby having health problems when he/she is born and in later life. Eating a good diet and following a healthy lifestyle will help you to have a healthy enjoyable pregnancy and a healthy baby. There are many different options for pain-relief during labour, speak to your midwife.
Healthy eating goals - see how many you can tick off during your pregnancy!
Choosing one or two a week to focus on is great way to start!
This week I’ll…
ΟTake my pregnancy vitamins every day
ΟTry a new vegetable or fruit I’ve never tried before
Ο Find a new easy recipe online and give it a go
Ο Join a local cooking class
Ο Eat breakfast every day
Ο Have a piece of fruit as a snack every day
Ο Drink a small glass of orange juice with my breakfast, lunch or dinner
Ο Have a low fat yogurt for dessert after lunch or dinner
Ο Choose a wholegrain version of starchy carbs like brown rice, wholemeal pasta or wholemeal bread
Ο Swap sugary fizzy drinks for water or milk
Ο Look at the food labels and select meals and snacks which have green (ideally) or amber colour coding for fat, sugar and salt.
Last reviewed April 2015. Next review due April 2018.
British Nutrition Foundation
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